August 10, 2009

YES: To pay for health care, treat aging. “As politicians try to reform a health care system that could swallow one-fifth of the nation’s economic output by 2020, they should consider making a small bet with a potentially huge payoff: research that could slow the process of aging.” I’ve had some related thoughts here. (Bumped).

UPDATE: Reader Darryl Boyd compares this post with the earlier one in which the CBO says that “preventive care” won’t save money and asks: “Isn’t your yes to treating aging pretty much the definition of Preventive Care? Doesn’t that make these two a bit at odds with each other?”

I don’t think so. “Preventive care” as studied by the CBO involves a lot of screening (and sometimes preventive-treatment) for conditions that most of the screened will never actually get. But everyone ages. There’s also the pension-savings element mentioned in my linked article above. Am I wrong here?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Michael Boyd writes: “Glenn, please help me to understand this….isn’t prolonging life, even if that life is happy, healthy and productive (and most certainly that’s a worthy goal), just pushing the end-of-life costs out further into the future, and therefore not reducing costs, but rather postponing them?” Well, postponing costs is reducing them, on a present value basis. But if you push end-of-life farther out, several other things also happen. First, you have more time for further medical innovation, which may reduce costs. Second, you have a longer productive lifetime against which those costs can be offset. (And, as I note in the linked column above, you reduce or delay pension outlays and set those against a longer earnings career, too). It’s also possible — perhaps even likely — that effective treatment of aging won’t just postpone, but may actually reduce or eliminate, many “end-of-life” expenses.

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